Hard work and HOPE

As one of your future instructors, I congratulate you on becoming a college student. You are now part of what is becoming a select group. A 2014 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed only 66 percent of graduating high school seniors went onto college, and that number is declining. Recognize the distinction you have earned, and honor it. Here are a few pointers to make that possible.

Along with the distinction of being a college student comes a new set of standards. No longer will your professors follow up to make sure you’re working on that research paper or comprehending the assigned sociology chapter. The onus of inquiry now shifts to your shoulders; the responsibility to ferret out the information you lack or to acquire clarification rests on you.

One of the best ways to get the help you need to succeed is to meet with your professors, all of whom are required to maintain office hours for student consultations. Make regular use of this open-door policy. It’s an excellent way to discover the answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask, and to develop mentor relationships that might come in handy when you need a reference later.

Recognize the difference between “earning” and “being awarded.” Professors “award” grades based on the accomplishments that have earned them. Also note that “earning” is an activity, while “being awarded” is a passive event. Actively earn good grades by attending and being prepared for class, completing assignments on time, asking questions and engaging in class conversation.

Admittedly, at some point in your academic career, you may encounter the one evil Voldemort on the faculty, but in reality, the vast majority of professors has students’ best interests at heart and will work with them to further their development and growth. But professors aren’t mind-readers; tell them you need help before you flunk the first quiz.

Read and refer often to the course syllabus that sets out expectations and guidelines. These are not the mice-type agreements attached to your cell phone contract that can be ignored; they are explicit instructions that explain all aspects of the course and what it takes to earn a passing grade. After reading the syllabus, you may decide the course is not for you, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drop it and add another.

But by staying in the class, you agree to abide by the terms the professor has laid out and, just like a driver’s manual that spells out the rules of the road, the rules of a syllabus will be enforced.

If you have earned a HOPE Scholarship, congratulations. Now your job is to keep that scholarship alive by earning a B average. This may have been easy in high school, but in college, a C is a passing grade for acceptable work. Earning a B requires above-average work if you don’t want to be one of the seven of 10 students who loses HOPE after the first year.

And HOPE is worth keeping. This may be the only time in your life a government agency pays you to study, research, explore and develop as an individual and a scholar. Make keeping HOPE your job; it pays better than working 20 hours a week for 15 weeks at $10 an hour. And it adds more cachet to your resume than dishing up fast food. Being a four-year HOPE scholar is an accomplishment you can brag about on job and graduate school applications.

But if you find yourself in desperate need of a part-time gig, start looking around the campus where you already are. Chances are good there are opportunities for on-site employment that you may not have considered, and your employer may be more sympathetic than most if you need to change your schedule during finals week.

College is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that invites you to explore, experiment and broaden your horizons. So stop streaming Netflix in your dorm room and discover the excitement happening around you. And along the way, use that student ID for every discount you can get, from free Amazon Prime to cheap air fares. It’s an exclusive perk of your position, and one you’ll likely wish you had again after graduation.

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Along with teaching college composition courses as part of her doctoral program at Georgia State University, Atlanta-based journalist H.M. Cauley writes “Making the Grade,” a weekly AJC column on school success stories.